Monday, July 28, 2008

A Trio of Movies

With Sisterfilms in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a few days, far from theaters and DVD players, I thought I'd fill the gap and say a little about three movies I watched recently -- two well-known and the third much less so.

The first one, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, (1973) was based on Frederick Forsyth's Edgar-award-winning novel. I've been reading all the winners of the Best Novel award, given by the Mystery Writers of America each year since 1954, for about a year now, and have reached 1977. The book in question won in 1972 (published in 1971) and was filmed the following year. As a rule, I prefer to see the movie first and then read the book, as I've so often been disappointed by film treatments of books I liked. This time, though, I reread the book first and then saw the movie, which I'd missed the first time around. I can't say I was disappointed at all. There was only one major plot change that I can recall, and it was probably made in order to keep the film at a manageable length. Fred Zinneman's direction was just what was needed to keep the suspense going, the casting was excellent, and the setting in 1963 was spot-on. As I'm not a real cinema critic (haven't taken any film classes ever), the only cinematic device I noticed was the frequent shots of clocks. Nearly every location had its clock face with time ticking away -- an especially subtle choice because, until the last few moments of the film, the hunt for the Jackal is not a matter of hours or minutes, but days or weeks. Apparently there was a remake in 1997 which should be avoided, but the original film is excellent.

Next, we received from Netflix CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (2007). Starring Tom Hanks, who's come a long way since BOSOM BUDDIES, this is based on the true story of how Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson called in enough Congressional favors to covertly supply the Afghan mujahedeen with sufficient arms to defeat the Soviet invasion, and, some say, to bring about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in an amazing performance as maverick CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (it's hard to believe, seeing him in this film, that he played such a believable Truman Capote!) Whatever your politics, this film will give you a lot of food for thought about our foreign policy failures and successes, and entertain you as well.

Last night, I watched a Canadian movie that isn't so well-known. ALL HAT (2007) is based on a novel by Brad Smith, who also co-wrote the screenplay. I happened upon it because I'd read a mystery (BUSTED FLUSH) by the author and wanted to see what else he'd done. Then I saw that not only were Luke Kirby (SLINGS AND ARROWS, a brilliant Canadian TV series), Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES and many others), and Gary Farmer (POWWOW HIGHWAY, one of my favorite films) part of the cast, but also Cordeliaknits' junior high and high school classmate Rachael Leigh Cook! So I had to see it, and enjoyed it very much.
ALL HAT is a sort of modern-day Western, set among the horse farms and burgeoning subdivisions of Fort Erie and environs in Ontario (across the Niagara River from Buffalo, NY). As you might guess, the farms and the subdivisions don't mix, and the villain of the piece, rich boy Sonny Stanton (played by Noam Jenkins), is trying to force all the farmers out so he can make a killing on a casino/golf course development. Luke Kirby's character, Ray Dokes, has had trouble with Sonny before, and at first has a fatalistic attitude that "the money always wins." But a fortuitous horse theft (not by Dokes) gives him an idea of how to give Sonny his much-deserved comeuppance. Rachael Leigh Cook plays a jockey with some issues of her own; Keith Carradine is a father-surrogate for Ray and perfect as the over-the-hill Texas cowboy with a constant flow of dry wit. Fine performances by all concerned and a satisfying plot combine with a beautiful setting to make an enjoyable film that raises some intriguing moral questions. (Unfortunately for youth group leaders, it's rated R for some sex and violence and a lot of rough language.)

1 comment:

Singing Owl said...

I loved Charlie Wilson's War. There are few, or maybe no, movies that are based on true stories that I don't like!